A tour of KC’s Women in Jazz

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Janet Kuemmerlein has been interested in jazz even longer than she has been making art. Growing up in Detroit, she had to take two buses to reach her arts-focused high school downtown. While there, members of the Modern Jazz Quartet might stop by and ask to borrow instruments from the school. She also made sure to take in concerts by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Stan Kenton … well, you get the picture.

After high school, Kuemmerlein was invited to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Upon graduation she moved to Chicago, where she met her husband. Work assignments finally landed the couple and their four children in Kansas City, Mo. in 1960.

Kuemmerlien started in painting and sculpture. When she found the chemicals toxic around young children she moved to fabric. Her fabric works are on display across the country in government and office buildings, libraries and hotels, churches and synagogues.

Jazz and art didn’t intersect until Kuemmerlien was asked to contribute to the Johnson County Community College art auction in 2000. Her painting of Miles Davis was purchased by a local attorney and later given to the American Jazz Museum. Last month, Kuemmerlien unveiled her latest project, a series of 11 portraits commissioned by the AJM for their Women in Jazz celebration.

The paintings are on display in the gallery off the museum lobby from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays, until the end of May. There is no charge to view the exhibit.

Kuemmerlien was kind enough to take The Daily Record on a tour of the exhibit and speak about each piece.

Oleta Adams

Oleta Adams – “We actually talked on the phone quite a bit beforehand because she was out of town so much. I wanted to showcase her hands because they’re such an expressive part of her performance. She and her husband are delightful people. God she is funny. She’s just adorable.”

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson – “I made this from a concert photo. When I told her I was doing this she said ‘don’t paint any lines (on my face),’ but she doesn’t have any. She’s too young. She was in town recently, but I don’t know if she’s seen this or not.”

Queen Bey

Queen Bey – “Queen lives in California now, but when we were putting the exhibit together the museum told me she absolutely had to be in it. They supplied me with some photos and this is what I came up with. Although she isn’t in Kansas City any more, Queen Bey has been around for a long time and was an important figure to our jazz and blues scene.”

Deborah Brown

Deborah Brown – “Deborah spends a lot of time in Japan and Amsterdam. It was tricky to schedule the photo shoot, but we finally found a time and she came into my studio. She’s just a wonderful woman. I wanted the large circle in the background to reflect her career in Japan.”

Pearl Thurston Brown

Pearl Thurston Brown – “I did this partly from a photo she gave me, and partly from a photo session in her home. She’s as beautiful as she ever was. Although the painting portrays her at a younger age, she’d make a great portrait today as well.”

Carol Comer

Carol Comer – “Carol is a personal friend of mine. I took her face from one photo, then went to her house and took a bunch of photos of her hands. I made up the trumpet player. Carol teaches many of the other vocalists in this series.”

Angela Hagenbach

Angela Hagenbach – “This is the first one I did. I got photos of her at Jardine’s one night before her set. I was so excited, because I got terrific pictures, except she’s so tall and I’m so short I would accidentally cut the top of her head off. She’s just a beautiful women – and great singer, too.”

Lisa Henry

Lisa Henry – “This is one of the first ones I made. Again, I went to her house to take pictures. I knew she loved red roses, so I made those the background, then took photos of her at the Blue Room. She has such feel and phrasing. I think she’s a wonderful artist.”

Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye – “I painted this from photos Marilyn sent me and from album covers. Marilyn lives in New York, but she’s certainly a Kansas City legend. I tried to capture her longevity with the painting. She’s such a dynamo. Johnny Carson referred to her as a singer’s singer. She was his favorite singer.”

Julie Turner

Julie Turner – “I went to her house and photographed her. I used actual jewels to give textual interest to the painting and to have a little fun.”

The Wild Women of Kansas City

Wild Women of Kansas City – “I met with Geneva Price before I did any of the paintings, because she was working on an oral history of women jazz artists. For the painting, I used several group photos and then created a composite. I picked the best poses from each photo.”

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Review: Oleta Adams

Review: Oleta Adams

(Above: “Get Here” brought down the house at Oleta Adams’ recent homecoming concert in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Oleta Adams took the stage of Gem Theater on Saturday night with a smile and an apology.

“I’m sorry I’m dressed this way,” she said, wearing a stunning, strapless, turquoise dress. “I thought it was supposed to be spring.”

It would take more than a dumping of out-of-season snow to keep the nearly full house from seeing its hometown girl. For more than two hours, the singer, who was a staple of the local jazz scene in the 1980s, indulged them with stories, a wide selection of songs, and surprises.

The evening got off to a rocky start. Adams’ piano was initially buried in the mix. The drums, played by her husband John Cushon, and keyboards, played by Kansas City native Everett Freeman, Jr., overshadowed everything. The songs were played at a level reserved for noisy clubs or large theaters, not a respectful group in an acoustically sound room.

Adams’ powerful voice, however, would not be derailed by the sonic disarray. After opening with “Feelin’ Good,” the first of several cuts from her latest album, she led her four-piece band into “New York State of Mind.” By the time she got to the reworked bridge that ushered in a lengthy guitar solo, the song bore little resemblance to Billy Joel’s hit. “I Just Had to Hear Your Voice” displayed Adams’ dynamic range. The lyric-heavy melody found her working the verses in a lower register before opening up and soaring on the chorus.

After 40 minutes, Adams announced a short break. It felt premature, but the timing couldn’t have been better. When the group returned 30 minutes later, the sound issues had been resolved. Balance had been restored and instruments were complementing instead of competing. The always-upbeat Adams seemed happier with the situation, too. During “My Heart Won’t Lie” she held onto a note with a phrasing that recalled Nina Simone and drew big applause.

The biggest cheers of the night, however, didn’t go to Adams. After playfully introducing her band, Adams informed the audience that the mother of her bass player, Jeanne Arland Peterson, was sitting in their midst. With the spotlight focused on Peterson, Adams was able to coax her to come onstage.

Peterson looked fragile making her way up the steps, but spring to life behind Adams’ grand piano. After a breathtaking solo, Peterson launched into “All the Things You Are” with her son, Paul Peterson, and Cushon. The impromptu trio sounded like they’d been playing together for years (and, I suppose, two-thirds of them had). When the 88-year-old pianist wanted to hear a solo, she raised her left hand and shot her index finger at the musician in question as if holding a gun.

Once the massive standing ovation died down, Adams joined the trio for a romp through “More Than You Know.” Peterson’s hands slid across the keyboard with gusto and inspired Adams’ best performance of the night.

Clearly excited to be playing again in her adopted hometown, Adams relished talking with the crowd as much as performing. She sang the praises of the 18th and Vine District, and recalled her days playing at the Signboard Lounge in Crown Center.

“My favorite moment every night,” Adams said, “was waiting to see who got beat up in the bathrooms.”

Fights, Adams remembered, sometimes broke out because someone didn’t applaud the right way. Adams also told of a police detective who frequented her gigs. When someone would start talking too loudly, he would start polishing his badge, hinting at what might happen if the chatter didn’t stop.

“I always had the most dedicated fans,” she said, laughing.

The night ended with what Adams said she called the “fourth set” back in her Signboard days. After hinting at her gospel roots in the first set by prefacing “No Way To Love Me“ with I Corinthians 13, Adams took the assembly to church with a powerful one-two of “If You’re Willing” and “Holy is the Lamb.” Both songs were from Adams’ 1997 gospel collection “Come Walk With Me” and fans voiced their pleasure by clapping along and shouting amen.

The poignant “Long and Lonely Hours” is part of a new collection of prayers set to song that Adams hopes will be her next album. The invocation was written after her mother died after spending five months in the hospital, and deals with the feelings of abandonment, awkwardness and, ultimately, acceptance, one feels alone at night in the hospital.

Adams wouldn’t let the night end on a dark note, so she immediately sprang into “Get Here.” Fans burst into applause at the opening chord of her most famous number and several cried out with excitement. Expectations can be high for homecoming shows, but it was clear from the closing ovation that Adams had met them all.

“Tonight,” the woman sitting next to me said, “we got our own jewel, right here at the Gem.”

Setlist: Feelin’ Good; New York State of Mind; I Just Had To Hear Your Voice; I Hope You Dance; Picture You the Way That I Do; Circle of One. Intermission. The Power of Sacrifice; Let’s Stay Here; My Heart Won’t Lie; All The Things You Are (ft. Jeanne Arland Peterson); More Than You Know; If You’re Willing; Holy is the Lamb; Long and Lonely Hours (solo); Get Here.

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